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Evgeni Nabokov's on-ice leadership reaping rewards for Islanders

Evgeni Nabokov looks on from the net during

Evgeni Nabokov looks on from the net during a timeout against the Rangers in the second period of a game at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 29, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For this little glimpse of Islanders hope recently -- five victories and 12 points in nine games -- Evgeni Nabokov is not claiming to tend to anything more than the goal.

"I'm here to do my job and not be giving tons of advice and stuff,'' the 38-year-old goaltender said of possibly passing along 13 NHL seasons of knowledge to his younger teammates. "It's so hard, because my position is so different from everybody else's. I need to do my job and hopefully everyone will do their jobs. That's how we're going to get results."

Still, Islanders coach Jack Capuano can see a connection between Nabokov's mid-December return from a groin injury and the last-place Islanders' 5-2-2 record since then, including back-to-back victories over the last two Stanley Cup champions, Boston and Chicago.

"He's a big reason we got to the playoffs last year," Capuano said, "And you look at this year, you know, he's a veteran. We don't have many guys who have the experience he does.

"He knows what to say, when to say it. And then, on the ice, he's very vocal. He's constantly talking to our [defensemen] and he's much better at playing the puck than people give him credit for, getting that transition up the ice. And he handles his rebounds very well."

A goaltender's performance, Capuano said, is "no different than a quarterback, it's no different than pitching in baseball. You need that to win hockey games."

Since his return, Nabokov has started eight of the team's nine games and won four of them. He twice posted regulation-time shutouts -- he was beaten, 1-0, in overtime by Montreal in his first game back on Dec. 14 -- and carried the Islanders into a shootout before losing to Tampa Bay.

"He's huge for us in here," captain John Tavares said. "He's a veteran guy, and even though he's a goaltender, he's been through a lot, seen a lot, played for some really good teams, some successful teams. He's a guy who really fits in well with our young group. He's got a great personality, competes hard, makes us challenge one another."

To his defensemen, Travis Hamonic said, Nabokov "gives us eyes in the back of our heads; he's pretty vocal on the ice, for sure. Just quick conversations . . . But he has everything in front of him, so he tries to help out.

"You're familiar with his voice, and sometimes you don't know what's going on and have to trust his voice. He's a leader, a guy who's been around a long time."

Nabokov shrugged off that observation. "They all know how to play hockey," he said. "Being young, I think it's an advantage. You're fresher, you're younger, you're faster. Everybody knows their job and everybody is doing their own jobs. So that's the bottom line."

As for having tended to a possible Islanders turnaround, Nabokov turned aside the thought. "I never think too far away," he said. "Today we have to concentrate on Saturday's game against Carolina. We just have to continue to find a way to get the points."

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